Do citation indices count in tenure review?

Amy Brand comments on journal citation metrics and tenure and promotion, from the viewpoint of a university administrator Brand:appointments:2013. The piece is a reaction to those who believe that publishing in open access journals is harmful for the careers of junior scholars:

In 2010, Nature carried out a survey in which it asked readers about the use of metrics in decisions about new hires and tenure (Abbott et al., 2010). Three-quarters of the 150 readers who replied thought that metrics were being used in hiring decisions. However, provosts and other administrators contacted by Nature painted a different picture: Metrics are not used a great deal, said Alex Halliday, head of the mathematical, physical and life sciences division at Oxford University. The most important things are the letters, the interview and the CV, and our opinions of the papers published. Claude Canizares, vice president for research and associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had a similar message: We pay very little attention, almost zero, to citation indices and counting numbers of publications.

This is a little misleading. By the time a tenure application goes to the provost, it has already been through many layers of review. Letter writers, grant reviewers and departmental colleagues do pay attention to high-profile publications. It is true that calculating the citation index of a journal does not add much information to this process, but a scholar who publishes only in very obscure venues will be dinged for it at these levels of evaluation.

Fortunately, open access journals are no longer obscure. Additionally, access is becoming part of what it takes a publication to be perceived as high-profile. Particularly in anthropology, there is a strong argument that providing access to research results is an ethical obligation to our research participants.